The Power of Sleep: Why It’s the Most Important Part of Your Day

4 min read

Last Modified 19 April 2021 First Added 14 April 2021

There are plenty of reasons why a good night’s sleep is so important, but unfortunately, many of us aren’t getting enough shut-eye. Modern life can throw our natural sleep patterns off kilter, with a knock-on effect on our mood and health. We sat down with Laura Needham, co-Head of Physiology at Team GB to talk about why we should all be paying more attention to our sleep.

 

The value of sleep for optimal performance

While we all take sleep for granted, it’s key to our survival as a species. In fact, Laura believes it’s the most important part of our day and the science is beginning to back her up. Although sleep science is a relatively new area, researchers are already discovering how sleep helps athletes improve their performance and all of us function better. Laura explains:

We all need to feel alert and focused to perform at our best. When we’re sleepy and tired we are less able to retain information, our mood becomes low and we end up irritable and grumpy. Athletes in particular get tired from training and really need consistent quality sleep to maintain their emotional and mental wellbeing, along with high levels of concentration.

She adds that good quality sleep is just as vital for our physical wellbeing.

Athletes spend most of their time training. When you sleep, the body and muscles have a chance to recover, repair and adapt. So, sleep is critical for athletes in terms of physical recovery.

That goes for the rest of us too. Even if we’re not all training for the Olympics, our bodies still need that downtime to restore themselves.

Top causes of poor sleep

Sleep is essential for everyone but there are several common reasons why people aren’t getting enough. Here are some of the things that may be keeping you awake at night:

  • A bedroom that is too hot or cold
  • Too much caffeine or alcohol before bed
  • Using screens too close to bedtime
  • Having the wrong pillow or mattress
  • Noise from outside
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Jet lag

So, if you are sleeping badly, it’s worth looking at your lifestyle and sleeping arrangements to see where the problem may lie. Laura advises a cool bedroom, limited caffeine and to stop screen time as early as possible before going to bed. The blue light from screens is often blamed for poor sleep, but Laura explains that it’s the content we expose ourselves to before bed that’s the real issue.

If you see or read something that makes your mind race or provokes some kind of emotional response, you will find it difficult to nod off. Do not even try going to sleep unless your mind feels calm or you’ll end up stressed and awake.

Shaping a sleep routine

If you want to enjoy good sleep night after night, you need a sleep routine. Laura says the key is to acknowledge the importance of sleep and to develop a system that works for you. She observes:

Not everyone suits the same bedtime or sleeping time. So, consider whether you are a night owl or a morning lark. Everyone’s body clock is different and it’s important to wait until you feel calm and sleepy before going to bed, otherwise when you can’t sleep you will feel frustrated.

Once you’ve found a bedtime that suits you, try to keep within a 30-minute window of that and have a regular time to wake up too, again trying not to go over or under this by more than half an hour. And you should maintain this pattern across both the working week and weekend – as a rule of thumb, if you need to sleep in at the weekend, you’re probably not getting enough sleep during the week!

If you’re struggling to sleep at night you’re not alone – two thirds of UK adults say they suffer from disrupted sleep. But the good news is that there are practical steps you can take. Laura’s tips should help you drop off more easily and there are lots more tools online, including articles, podcasts, workshops and our own Sleep Matters Club, which is packed with advice from experts.  If you’re still sleeping badly try speaking to your GP, who should be able to offer more personal recommendations. Remember, good sleep should be one of your top priorities, so keep reading, researching and aiming for gold.